At the end I'll link to an article by Dave Palumbo on the Muddy Colors blog about working inside the box - it parallels what I'm about to say in certain ways, though I have a somewhat different slant on it. Here's a quote from it that helps:
“That’s just an acting challenge and that’s difficult, but that kind of - being put in a box we call that. Like, ‘put me in a box and I’ll make it work.’ you give me - you make it really difficult for me and I’ll make it work. Because that’s where you have to be really creative.”
-Bill Murray on filming Groundhog Day
The box I'm talking about doesn't make things more difficult though, it makes them easier in a way. The box I'm talking about is genre, or even subgenre. Until now I've been sort of casting about lost because I didn't have a subgenre in mind - though it's true, as I've been saying since the beginning of this blog my guiding lights have been Frazetta, Jeff Jones and Kent Williams, I refused to try to literally paint like them, partly because 2 of them are decades out of date and that kind of work wouldn't go over well in today's fantasy painting market. Also because I didn't want to limit myself to copying anybody with a really strong style.
I've seen people on ConceptArt move past me and I think it's because they have a very clear idea of exactly what they want to paint and how, where-as I've been rudderless, wanting my skills to be based on the heroic fantasy painting genre of the 60's and 70's (and Kent Williams) but not wanting to imitate them, and so it's been like trying to reinvent the wheel. While people who have a group of modern fantasy painters they're willing to imitate or emulate can easily climb up on their shoulders by imitating the kind of effects and techniques they use, and benefit from it rapidly.
I find for instance that when I watch a Glen Vilppu video and then allow myself to draw like him my work is a lot stronger than if I wasn't trying to draw like anybody. The same applied when I was trying to draw basically like Mike Mattesi or George Bridgman. It's the way you learn, unless you're a masochist and want to spend 20 years trying to get anywhere. Most of the great artists we know of did the same - started off imitating a hero of theirs, or several, and then when they got their chops down joined the movement - Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Expressionists, what have you. It's about limiting your choices severely. If you know what kind of color palette you want to use and how you want to approach painting people or landscapes or whatever, that's so much easier than trying to do it without the limitations in place. As someone said in the comments under the article - a river has limits and it flows rapidly, but a swamp has no limits so it stagnates.
I needed to find some artists who are completely viable in the contemporary scene but whose art looks more like traditional painting - chunky and powerful. I found them in Camilla Vielmond and Dave Seguin, as well as a few others (but those 2 stand out for me in particular). Recently I discovered a site called DrawCrowd and ran across both of them (I had already seen Camilla's work on CA.O, but it didn't really gel until I saw them both on the same site). And I had been thinking for a while about moving toward something more like contemporary fantasy painting anyway - I knew I needed a genre or even a subgenre to limit myself to in order to really start moving ahead rapidly. Sort of the way an explosion can just dissipate its energy in every direction until you set one off inside a tube, and then you've got a rocket.
Ok, here's that Dave Palumbo article (he used to be one of the pros on ConceptArt back when I first started hanging around there): Put me in a box